“A moveable feast”, that’s how Ernest Hemingway beautifully described Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. A period marked by a new aspiration to freedom and a great cultural and intellectual effervescence. Since then, the city has long been a favorite backdrop on celluloid with its timeless charm…
Here is our list of the best films that capture the beautiful city of lights in the 1920s and 1930s.
Midnight In Paris (2011)
While on a trip to Paris with his fiancée’s family, a nostalgic screenwriter (played by Owen Wilson) finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s everyday at midnight. As Owen Wilson is transported back in time, the anneés folles come alive with its costumes, music, great artists and intellectual fervor. A delightful celebration of Paris by the great Woody Allen.
Paris Qui Dort (1925)
The first film written and directed by René Clair, the avant-garde French filmmaker, is a silent comedy about a mad scientist who invents a ray that puts the city to sleep. It gives the audience a panoramic view of Paris from the dizzying heights of the Eiffel Tower, which is an important pivot and character in the film. The audience is treated to magnificent shots of the city on a magical day in 1920s Paris when it stood still with all its fashions and vintage cars galore.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009)
It explores the alleged affair between the most famous French fashion designer Coco Chanel and Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky. It is based mostly in Paris and its suburbs in 1920 when Chanel launched her famous perfume Chanel No.5.
A French silent masterpiece by Marcel L’ Herbier, it explores the great obsessions of the anneés folles, the stock market, aviation, opulence, decadence, high life, seduction, corruption and greed.
A Woman of Paris (1923)
An American silent feature by the genius Charles Chaplin who wrote, directed, produced and composed the score for this film. However, he does not act in the film which centers around Edna Purviance’s character Marie St. Clair, her love story, journey to Paris, trials and tribulations torn between her old lover from the countryside and her new wealthy Parisienne partner.
Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Bryner, is an American semi-historical drama, based on the play by Guy Bolton and Marcelle Maurette. The film opens in 1928 Paris. Anna, a recovering amnesiac, played by Ingrid Berman, attempting to commit suicide is saved by Bryner.
Sous les toits de Paris/Under the roofs of Paris (1930)
Another of René Claire’s classics, it explores the flamboyant atmosphere of Paris with its web of apartments and the story of a street singer and a gangster fighting for the attention of a beautiful young woman. The film is witty, has amazing visuals and uses the newest technology in cinema-sound, portrayed through charming songs. I
This Martin Scorsese film is based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It is his first movie in 3D, a heart-warming story of a young orphan boy who lives alone in the walls of the Montparnasse station in Paris in the 1930s with his only companion, an amazing automaton.
Hotel du Nord (1938)
The story revolves around a run-down hotel by the Canal Saint-Martin of Paris, the queer occupants of the hotel and Renee and Pierre, a young couple who having lost all hope in life, have decided to commit suicide together. The film explores diverse characters from the underbelly of the city – criminals, vagabonds and prostitutes and their sentimentality. Largely shot on elaborate sets, the film embodies the city and the era well. By Marcel Carné.
Paris 36/ Fauborg 36 (2009)
Paris 36 is written and directed by Christophe Barratier. It is an old fashioned movie centering around a cinema hall in a district known simply as ‘Faubourg’. The film is a melodramatic look at a time of mass unemployment, factory strikes and rising fascism. There is plenty of accordion music, baguettes, cafe and fashions to recreate the feel of the late 1930s in Paris.
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